Eduardo Ferreira scored the equalizer for the hosts.
Gokulam Kerala FC broke their jinx as they won their first-ever point against NEROCA FC since their debut in the Hero I-League. The Kerala-based side had been at the receiving ends twice in the last edition but they stole a vital point against the Manipuri outfit at the Khuman Lampak Stadium in Imphal on Wednesday.
Newly-appointed NEROCA FC boss Manuel Fraile induced two changes from the last match as Varney Kallon, who was injured, made a comeback in his usual position as well as Ronald made his first start of the season.
On the other side of the pitch, Bino George made as many as four changes in the starting line-up too. He brought in Rashid K, Pritam Singh, Monotosh and Rajesh S who had a spectacular game against Mohun Bagan last day.
The hosts came to the pitch at the back of a loss against Quess East Bengal whereas the visitors travelled all the way to Imphal having gathered much-needed gusto against the Mariners.
In the 13th minute, Subash Singh rushed into the box with a clear intention to find the back of the net but the Ortiz came to his team’s rescue. Five minutes later, the NEROCA FC attacker got another opportunity to open the goalmouth but following a melee in the box, the chance got wasted for them.
At the stroke of the half-hour mark, Malem Meitei put in a long ball for Aryn Williams who wasted what might have been the best opportunity for the hosts in the first half. The long ball by Meitei landed perfectly on the head of the Aussie but he failed to connect it on time which resulted in nothing more than a goal kick for the visitors.
Bino George, in the 35th minute, introduced Bodo which played to be the perfect master-stroke by Gokulam Kerala FC manager. The Manipuri lad ripped the NEROCA FC defence apart within 10 minutes of coming on the pitch to shut the noisy crowd.
The move started from the back when skipper Musa rolled it to another local lad Pritam Singh, who flummoxed the NEROCA defenders to put in a nippy ball for an onrushing Bodo who did no mistake to rattle the back of the net leaving the goalkeeper Boerchio stranded.
After the changeover, the hosts shifted the gear to push the Keralites on the backfoot. The Manipuri side tweaked in their strategies and started putting in more pressure on the Gokulam Kerala FC defenders.
Their Nigerian striker Felix Chidi had a spectacular run down the left flank before bombarding a shot from inside the box which got thwarted by Daniel Addo. On the rebound, Aryn Williams tried to sneak in but his effort went abegging.
Three minutes later, Pritam had a rusty challenge on Ronald Singh which eventually helped the hosts earn the hard-fought equaliser. Subash Singh glided a long free-kick to the far end of the D-box and Tondomba headed it down to Malem whose side-footed volley was steered in beautifully by Brazilian defender Eduardo Ferreira to provide the NEROCA FC dugout with much-needed respite.
Bino George, in their pursuit of the winning goal, brought in Suhair VP seven minutes to the final whistle but to no avail.
NEROCA FC goalie Boerchio made some pivotal saves in the dying minutes of the match to secure their first point of the Hero I-League 2018-19 season. Suhair, in the 89th minute, took a 360-degree turn and unleashed a shot from close but the goalie never let it go out of his reach.
In the next minute, Pritam took his own time to slot in from outside the 6-yard box but Boerchio, thanks to his immaculate positioning, made it look a routine save to cut the scorer’s job short.
Gokulam Kerala FC will host Chennai City FC in their next fixture on November 4, 2018 whereas NEROCA FC will fly to their neighbouring state to clash their swords with former champions Aizawl FC on November 7, 2018.